THE LATE HEAD LAMA OF THE
Mr. W. H. Murray has brought home the sad news-heard at the Thyangboche monastery in 1951—that the old Lama of Rongbuk died in the previous year; and he and Colonel H. W. Tobin honour me with the suggestion that I should write an obituary notice regarding this good and distinguished friend of many expeditions to Mount Everest.
He was not known to the members of the reconnaissance of 1921, being engaged in meditation at the time of their arrival. It is not unlikely that, prizing as he did the advantages of isolation from the busy world, he was reluctant to meet strangers.
But in 1922 the irresistible personality of General Bruce persuaded him that here was a reincarnation of a Tibetan lama, and deep called unto deep. He himself claimed to be a reincarnation of the nine-headed god Chongraysay; and, once satisfied that the purpose of an expedition to Mount Everest was pilgrimage, he willingly gave the enterprise his blessing; the more so that the Sherpa porters from Solah Khombu were his parishioners. Naturally, he upheld the age- old tradition that no living thing should be killed in the Rongbuk valley; and while undisturbed by the superstition that local demons might be upset he did not deny that the upper Rongbuk and its glaciers harboured no less than five 'wild men'. The human and kindly side of him was displayed when he held a special service after the avalanche which killed seven porters.
It seems probable that the arrival of the 1924 expedition renewed his anxiety for a quiet life of contemplation; yet he willingly gave his blessing to General Norton's party when the fearful hardships at Camp III had temporarily affected the porters' morale. I feel sure he would be saddened by the tragic ending of that expedition, but the record is silent.
The impression left by General Bruce was never effaced, for each successive leader of expeditions was asked what relationship he bore to that great prototype; the questions were very searching, and the Lama's countenance and expression somewhat formidable. But he could and did smile in the most charming manner; and his sense of humour was always at hand—for instance, when poor Frank Smythe endeavoured to pronounce the formula om mane padme hum with notable lack of success.
I first met the Lama in 1933, and again in 1936. In the latter year he was 71 and had ruled his monastery with strength, wisdom, and dignity for more than fifty years. His authority over wild Tibetans and high-spirited Sherpas was absolute; and during the last fifteen years he had met a few disciplined Gurkha soldiers and a number of those strange English whom the Dalai Lama had allowed to come but whose purpose was still obscure. However, no harm seemed to have been done, and he was old and tolerant. He made the conventional requests that we would not kill, would not disturb his peace by opening direct communications with the Kharta or Karma valleys, would not cut brushwood near the base camp, since it was needed for his hermits; and, above all, would treat our porters well. His blessings and prayers for the safe return of all were then renewed, with touching sincerity.
I will never forget his last words to me when I went to say goodbye in 1936. He now believed that our motives were not materialistic, and that we underwent a spiritual experience on Mount Everest. He gave me a little silver cup, a pamphlet printed at the monastery for the use of pilgrims, and a cordial invitation to visit him again. On my saying that I was too old to climb again but would like to sit at his feet and learn wisdom, he laughed happily and gave me his blessing. He was a great and good man; scholar, administrator, and saint. May he rest in peace.
ROGER DUPLAT AND GILBERT VIGNES
Although these gallant young Frenchmen were net actually members of the Himalayan Club they belonged to that great organization, the Club Alpin Frangais, with which we reciprocate. It is therefore seemly to include them among others whose passing we regret. General Sir Roger Wilson, who was our President in 1939-40 and was also a founder member, has written of their tragic end on Nanda Devi.
Once an Alpine peak has been climbed, subsequent ascents are greatly facilitated. The pioneers have shown how the technical difficulties of the mountain can be avoided or overcome, and later parties build on the knowledge thus gained until finally the mountain gives way to the human and may then, in some fairness perhaps, be said to have been conquered.
This is not so where the great Himalayan peaks are concerned. They oppose, and continue relentlessly to oppose the climber, not the technical difficulties of rock and ice but the less predictable ones of altitude, weather, and avalanche. Given the right combination of luck and Himalayan experience, these peaks may at times be caught off their guard and may be climbed. With the resources at their disposal, however, they will never make a complete surrender and can never be conquered.
Dash and determination are necessary attributes of Himalayan as of all mountaineers. They cannot alone, however, overcome the difficulties of altitude and they have no effect whatsoever on the weather. A slope will be no less likely to avalanche because of the determination of the party who set foot upon it in unsafe conditions.
To the determination, dash, and pluck of Roger Duplat and Gilbert Vignes, Nanda Devi, the Goddess, opposed all the weapons of her armoury. They expected to be on the main summit by noon, whereas two hours later they were still seen making their way upwards. The Goddess had brought into use her first weapon, altitude. Almost at once, when a snowstorm hid them from view, the second weapon—weather—was unmasked. The third and most devastating weapon was still in reserve, but that the danger of avalanche existed is beyond doubt. The snow-slope down the east side of the peak leading to the connecting ridge is depicted in the accompanying photograph. It faces south-east and catches the morning sun. By noon the danger of an avalanche on such a slope is great, by three o'clock it might well be a certainty.
We shall never know how these two gallant young lives were lost, whether from exhaustion, cold, or avalanche, but disaster in one form or another was a possibility from the moment when the party adopted their ambitious programme, dependent on speed, at this great altitude. The possibility may well have become a certainty when, so much behind time, they still pressed on.
R. G. W.
GENERAL SIR KENNETH WIGRAM
G.C.B., C.S.I., C.B.E., D.S.O.
General Wigram died in 1949, aged 73. He was a founder member of the Glub and in the early days, when Geoffrey Corbett was engaged in collecting the names of likely members and in drawing up the constitution, it was to Wigram he turned for the names of likely soldiers for the new club and for suggestions on the constitution. At the time Wigram was the commander of the Waziristan District and although remote from Delhi, where the bulk of the work was done, he had a great influence on the Club then and as Vice-President in 1931-2 and President in 1933.
As a boy and a young man Wigram was a fine cricketer and player of racquets and polo; he was not a mountaineer but was a lover of the outdoors, of nature, and of mountains. In common with many soldiers, the writer owes to him and to his encourage- in en 1 and advice opportunities of exploring, climbing, and ski-ing in the Himalayas.
To his brother officers of all ranks and of all ages, and to many others as well, Wigram was known as 'Kitty', which as a short name was to his generation of soldiers of the Indian Army almost as familiar as were 'Bobs' and 'K.’ in earlier years. This is some measure of the affection and respect in which he was held in the Indian Army. His record as a soldier has been told elsewhere-it was a curious and an unfortunate freak of fate which denied to him the two highest honours which can fall to the lot of a soldier—the appointment of Commander-in-Chief India and the rank of Field- Marshal; few who have had the good fortune to achieve these distinctions have been worthier of them than Kitty Wigram.
After his retirement, in poor health, he devoted his great powers of organization and administration to the Royal Cancer Hospital, the Nuffield Provincial Hospitals Trust, as well as to the church in Westminster which he attended, bringing to them the same selfless enthusiasm which he had devoted to the profession of arms during his service of forty years.
Of his early years in his regiment, 2nd King Edward VII's Own Gurkha Rifles (the Sirmoor Rifles), and of his career as a junior staff officer, I am not competent to write: I knew him as a deeply religious man, of boundless generosity, entirely without conceit or self seeking. He was endowed with great personal charm and was the friend of all, from Viceroys to the men in the ranks of his old regiment. By his death the Indian Army and the Club have lost a most distinguished member.
R. C. W.
Lieutenant Prithi Pal Singh Bhagat, who died on the Kamet expedition, was an extremely promising young officer in the Corps of Engineers. He had two years' training at the National Defence Academy followed by a year at the College of Military Engineering, from which he passed out with great credit. Though he had no previous experience of mountaineering he was tremendously keen both before and during the expedition. He had spent a day reconnoitring the climb from Camp III to Camp IV, and while descending stumbled on an easy snow slope and stuck the point of his ice-axe into his leg, above the knee. The wound bled very little and he treated it as trivial, climbing the next day to Camp IV. He was not well enough to climb on the following day when General Williams joined him from Camp I, but made no mention of his injury, attributing his indisposition to altitude. Later his wound was dressed and treated and he seemed to be almost fit to move down to the small hospital at Joshimath. His weakness was not fully realized and he died in his sleep at Bampa. Though he had not actually become a member of the Himalayan Club he was on the point of doing so.
MR. GEORGE FREY
Mr. George Frey, who was before his untimely death Assistant Swiss Trade Commissioner in Bombay, died at the age of 29 while on a one-man expedition to climb Koktang peak, 19,900 feet, south of Kabru. He hailed from Zurich and it was his wish before he returned to Switzerland to pay, as it turned out, his last visit to the Himalaya. Mr. Frey was an all-round sportsman and during his stay in the U.K., from 1946 to 1948, as a member of the Swiss Office for the Development of Trade he excelled at cross-country meetings in the neighbourhood of London. But his great love was the mountains and it can be said that he was one of the better amateur climbers in his own country.
Tenzing, who was Mr. Frey's head porter, has told the story himself of the fatal accident on the Koktang peak. 'On the morning of 29th October 1951 we began the ascent. Phu Tharkey stayed in Camp II while Ang Dawa and I went with Mr. Frey. We followed a steep gully, partly snow covered, partly consisting of rocks with a thin coating of ice. The upper part of the gully led to a very steep ridge and Mr. Frey led; I followed ten steps behind with Ang Dawa ten steps below me. Not more than forty steps above the gully Mr. Frey suddenly slipped and fell towards me. I tried to stop him but in vain, and began to fall myself. Fortunately I did not lose my ice-axe as Mr. Frey lost his and I tried to check the fall but failed. While sliding down I hit Ang Dawa and all three of us continued to fall towards the gully. Just before the steepest part I succeeded in stopping my fall but Ang Dawa continued to shoot down towards me. With great luck I was able to stop him. We then roped up and descended very carefully. We shouted to Phu Tharkey to look for Frey Sahib who had fallen the full depth of the gully, at least 1,400 feet. Phu Tharkey reached the spot before us and we arrived to discover with dismay that he was already dead. The three of us carried the body down to the end of a glacier and buried him there near the enormous block which is visible from quite a distance. Above his grave we erected a cairn and placed his ice-axe on the top of it.'